Kevin Garside: Murray should not be held responsible for 76 years of hurt
Fred Perry even seduced Marlene Dietrich during an affair with a lesbian
The summer's sporting set piece shifts across the Home Counties from Ascot to Wimbledon. That ghastly football will soon be over. Oh I say, bring it on. The advent of Wimbledon fortnight unites contradictory themes; a celebration of tennis and the annual wringing of hands about the state of the game in our nation.
Inevitably, the Britometer measuring domestic progress on the outside courts will be bust by Wednesday, with the arrow left pointing in the direction of one man. And thus does Murray Mound assume the dimensions of a temple, a place of ardent devotion to the cause of our hero charged with ending a losing streak that began in the reign of George VI.
Poor sod. Fred Perry knew not what ball and chain he was attaching to those coming up behind when he ran through the long-trousered Thirties claiming his hat-trick of Wimbledon titles from 1934. What a delight it would be to return to the subject of Andy Murray a fortnight hence to celebrate Britain's first Grand Slam champion since that tempestuous decade. What a pity that his failure to raise the Union Flag on Centre Court would be cause for condemnation or even blame, as if the responsibility for the lack of excellence in British tennis was his.
Like our golfers Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, ranked respectively No 1 and No 3 in the world, Murray is asked to justify elite status in the absence of a major championship, almost to apologise for a ranking earned in year-round combat against his peers.
This is a nonsense. Murray is arguably Britain's most accomplished male player since the Stockport scion. Like Tim Henman before him, he has performed a minor miracle in breaching the world's top five, given the record of the country as a whole.
If I were being picky, Murray does not engage the audience through the force of his personality. We are unlikely to report on his sorties to Hollywood, where Perry was offered hefty contracts for walk-on parts, nor tell of mad escapes from hotel windows down knotted sheets in pursuit of amorous conquests with leading sirens of the ladies' game. Perry even managed to seduce Marlene Dietrich during an affair with a lesbian lover, a poet to boot. All of this and more in Jon Henderson's ripping yarn The Last Champion.
Murray can appear a dour fellow, his heavily accented English delivered in a worthy Scottish monotone that makes Gordon Brown appear game for a laugh. He has fought all his career against the dress sense of a dozy teenager selecting his wardrobe from the school lost-property box. To be fair, the style gurus at 19 Management have addressed this by taking the clippers to his hair and giving him moody makeovers in Vogue. Mario Testino brought Murray's inner beast to the fore in a series of gym shots that projected plausible menace. On the court, equally moody coach Ivan Lendl is tasked with teasing the Titan out of the boy in the era of Roger and Rafa, two of the greatest players to walk this tennis earth, not to mention Novak Djokovic, who might yet mature into that company.
Growing up in remote mountain territory in war-torn Yugoslavia is often invoked as a factor shaping the success of Djokovic. It's a nice line but where was the bloody conflict behind Roger's ascent in military-free Switzerland, or Majorca, for that matter, where the sun always shone on Rafa?
We are by definition the product of place, time and circumstance. Murray's lot is to carry around the Grand Slam courts of the world the burden of Perry's legacy. On London fields that reaches an insane peak.
At least our footballers get to share the load of carting the consequences of half a century of potless endeavour into tournament combat. Murray must face the music alone. Each year a familiar line-up of expert witnesses is asked to comment on his prospects. Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova have all had their say. Even Mark Philippoussis has weighed in with a view. They all agree that Murray has the talent. It comes down to that old differentiator, mettle, bottle, nerve, call it what you will, that quality that inheres in champions.
Murray has contested three Grand Slam finals, two of which I witnessed. In those, first in New York, the second in Melbourne, he ran into a peak Federer, who would have cleared out anybody on the day. In Melbourne this year he took Djokovic to a fifth set in the semis. He is inching towards the target.
If I were to offer a personal view to the endless commentary it would be that he is too passive on big points, desperate not to make a mistake while hoping, perhaps, to profit from one on the other side of net.
There is none of that with Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Each has learnt how to win and, in tasting Grand Slam success, acquired the trick of repetition. Will Murray ever cross that line? Who knows? But don't kick him if he doesn't. The failure would rest with the nation, not him.
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